Here the plot thickens quite a bit. I had a lot of fun with both Owen and Detective Gordon in this chapter…I’ve never told anybody, but I imagined Gordon as being played by Paul Newman as I wrote this.
Hey. I liked Paul Newman, a lot.
Anyway, on with the show. And there’s a new “Send to Kindle” button at the bottom of all my pages and posts now, so if you want to read or refer to something later? You can. Oh, and the “Related Posts” dingus ought to help people navigate forward and backward if they’ve a mind.
Not that I have mindless readers. Do I? If so…cool, but how?
Ramirez and his partner had left Owen in an empty office at the boat broker’s place across the street from the marina. To wait for a detective. Two hours ago.
He sat uncomfortably, hands still cuffed, on a wooden chair behind a scarred mahogany desk. From time to time he got up to pace to the door and back. He could hear nothing from outside. He didn’t know where Shadow was.
At first he couldn’t think past his anger, at the police and whoever had killed Leon. Then for a while he worried about Shadow, out there with the police. Then he wondered about Leon’s parents. They were still around, up in San Antonio. Would they want Shadow? Though Leon had said his mother didn’t allow dogs in the house, hadn’t he?
Probably the police would tell them what had happened to Leon fairly soon, if they hadn’t already. The police would have questions to ask, too. Would they do it over the phone, or go in person? San Antonio was only a few hours away. Owen felt bringing the news—and the dog?—should have been his responsibility, though he couldn’t say why.
None of this seemed real to him yet. He’d just been out for the weekend, having a good time. He’d stopped for lunch and conversation when he’d seen the Hermit’s boat, then paddled across the Bay, and…everything had gone to hell.
* * *
Owen collapsed forward over his paddle, gasping for breath as his kayak glided to a stop.
His arms ached, and as circulation returned to his numbed hands a grainy sort of stinging sensation vibrated between his left thumb and forefinger. Another blister. He should have stopped to do something about it before it got this bad—the gloves weren’t helping much.
But hell, blisters didn’t matter. He’d pushed himself pretty hard, maybe even set a personal record, crossing the Corpus Christi Bay. Wheezing and flailing at the water, good form left somewhere far behind, he’d thrashed his way into the City Marina and declared victory. The Fusty Navel, home sweet home since he’d left his job last year, floated only forty or so yards away.
He laughed briefly, his lungs still heaving. A record, by God. If he’d actually timed it, and if anyone cared. He could tell Shawna about it later—he’d be doing the cooking tonight, so maybe she’d agree to feign awe at his prowess.
Or not. But that was okay. She’d probably smile, at least a little. He’d take what he could get.
After a few minutes, his breathing almost under control, Owen glanced up—and took a few quick strokes to get out of the way of a fast-approaching tourist in an aluminum outboard. It looked like one of the boats John Sumner notoriously left clustered at the loading dock, apparently so he could rent them to idiots in paisley Speedos.
Owen rode out the overpowered little boat’s wake, shook his head and began paddling slowly homeward. He’d been away for two days this time, and even with the hazards to navigation it was good to be back.
Up in the parking lot, somebody’s child screamed his defiance of the natural order and repeatedly slammed a car door. Owen usually enjoyed noisy kids, and only partly because they weren’t his problem. But his grin died half-formed, and he nearly missed the water with his paddle, as his eyes leapt to an empty space next to the fresh-shrimp stand.
Owen lowered the paddle to his lap, still staring into the parking lot. For several minutes no boats moved in or out of the marina. The kayak drifted through an oily flatness.
His Jeep Cherokee was missing.
All at once he couldn’t seem to move, couldn’t focus his mind even to paddle the last few yards to his boat. He felt inadequate, struck by an absurd conviction that he should be able to immediately understand, and maybe fix, what had happened.
But…who would have bothered to take the Jeep? With all the other cars sitting in the lot, grabbing Owen’s twenty-year-old ride didn’t make a lot of sense. It almost had to be kids, or maybe something personal.
Whom had he pissed off lately? And was the houseboat okay?
Or…Owen’s chest loosened as he realized there was a more likely explanation…maybe Leon had needed to borrow the Jeep? He knew where the keys were. He’d promised to rewire Owen’s instrument panel this weekend, and all he’d wanted in return was a 12-pack of Shiner Bock. Which he would probably split with Owen anyway, because Leon didn’t like to drink alone. So if he had taken the Jeep, he’d more than earned the privilege.
And for some reason Leon couldn’t keep his little diesel-powered VW Jetta running smoothly, even though he was a miracle worker with marine engines. He’d kept Owen from falling for a shady mechanic’s claim that the Fusty Navel’s port-side Westerbeke needed replacing, and then hadn’t charged much to fix the old one, so Owen didn’t begrudge him the occasional loaner.
On the other hand, up till now Leon had always asked for permission in advance.
Leon usually left notes about the work he was doing inside, on Owen’s refrigerator. Owen closed his eyes, told himself to relax. There would probably be a note. Or maybe Leon would only be gone for a few minutes.
He leaned out and dug in with his paddle, aiming for home. He’d deal with Leon and the Jeep later, if it turned out he had to. Right now he was going to enjoy the end of his trip.
Owen reached his boat and climbed aboard, smiling partly in self-mockery but mostly in a genuine and pleasant fog of anticipation. He hungered for some quiet, laughing time with Shawna in a few hours.
Once he’d stowed the kayak on deck and finished off the sole remaining bottle of beer from the cooler he’d carried behind him, he stretched out his aching legs and checked his watch. Thanks to his personal record crossing the Bay, he had plenty of time before Shawna showed up for their date at nine. He had filleted fish to split between the freezer and the frying pan, salty gear to rinse with freshwater, and probably some mail waiting for him at the marina office.
But his first priority, aside from checking for a note from Leon, was clear: he needed a shower. Two days of dribbled sweat were backing up his pores, and the disconcerting full-body prickle-chafe of dried seawater was calling attention to anatomical regions he preferred not to contemplate.
Besides. Coming back to the Fusty Navel also meant returning to the everyday world, with all its standards and expectations. His fragrant blend of old and new sweat, fish slime, and spilled beer would definitely not please Shawna when she arrived. He left everything where it sat and fumbled with the combination lock on the starboard door.
A faint but subtly out-of-place scent drifted beneath his own stench, permeating the back of his mind and settling in dark recesses. Its passage was setting off alarms, but they were muffled by the comforting insulation of exercise and alcohol.
When he finally opened the door (or hatch, as Leon kept wanting him to call it) and entered his living room, a concentrated miasma seemed to gather itself and rise up like a wall in his path.
He clapped a hand over his mouth, his eyes watering. His first thought as he turned away and stumbled back outside was that he would have to stop calling it a living room.
Leon had always insisted it was the main salon—and what was left of Leon waited inside. In a very real sense, he would never leave again.
Owen’s second thought was lost over the rail, along with the beer and sandwiches he’d had for lunch.
* * *
Owen shook his head. None of it made any sense. But after all this time in the empty office, with nothing new happening, the sheer absurdity of the situation had risen to the fore. Given the number of people who’d gathered to watch all the excitement, what would being led away in cuffs do to his status on the docks? Would he be asked to leave the marina? Would people walk more quietly past his boat when they returned, drunk, at two in the morning? At the very least, the story ought to be worth a few beers down at Snoopy’s. If he wasn’t in jail.
By the time the office door opened, his thoughts were careening from Leon to Shadow to his missing Jeep to wondering what life in prison would be like and back to what had been left of Leon’s face. He heard himself giggle just as a heavyset dark-haired man in a gray suit let himself in. Jesus, he had to get a grip. Hysteria wasn’t going to help.
“Mr. Tremaine?” the man asked, looking at Owen oddly. “I’m Phil Gordon, a detective with the CCPD.” He pointed at the badge clipped to his belt. “I’m sorry about the cuffs. It’s a nuthouse out there, and I was on another call.”
“Sorry?” Owen tried to sit up straighter. “Does that mean you’re going to take them off?”
“Should I?” Gordon asked.
“Depends. Where’s the dog?”
“Outside. He’s fine. Looked like somebody gave him a hamburger. I hope that’s not a problem.”
Owen nodded. “Okay. I got over being mad at you guys a while ago. Now I’m just tired. But I did nothing wrong, except maybe for a phone call to you people that didn’t work out so well. I might get irritated again if somebody tries something like shutting me up in a room for two hours.” He paused. “You know what really is a problem? I need to go to the bathroom. Do you want to help me, or uncuff me, or should I just piss here on the chair?”
Gordon looked at him, appearing to come to a decision. “Tell you what. I’ll get the cuffs off, then you can go to the bathroom across the hall, maybe step out to check on the dog if you want. Then you can come back and tell me what happened. Notice I’m not saying you can tell me your story,” he said, making quoting motions in the air with his index fingers. “I’m saying you can tell me what happened. And we’ll go from there. Deal?”
Owen grinned at him. Gordon felt solid. More than the kids who’d put him in here, anyway. But getting people to trust him was part of Gordon’s job, wasn’t it? “Maybe.” He stood up and turned around, offering his wrists. “But maybe not. Do I need a lawyer for this?”
Gordon puffed out a laugh as he bent behind Owen. “What for? You weren’t even there when it happened, right?”
“Yeah.” Was he about to make a big mistake? The kind you couldn’t recover from? “Right. One thing, though—I had a date for tonight. She was supposed to show up at my boat around nine o’clock. It’s getting close to nine now. Could you tell the folks around the boat to watch out for her and tell her I’m okay? She’s about five-four, blonde, brown eyes, name’s Shawna McPhee. Can you do that?”
“Sure,” Gordon answered, still busy behind Owen’s back. “I’ll let ‘em know outside.” He straightened up. “Done. See you in a few minutes.”
When Owen came back into the room, Gordon waved for him to take the big wooden chair again. Interesting. “You want me to be comfortable, right? Maybe I’ll get overconfident and say something dumb?”
Gordon shrugged. He sat in a visitor’s chair in front of the desk. “Hell, if it works I’m a genius. Also I’m not the one who just spent a couple of hours in cuffs. And I’m between you and the door. Besides, I never did like chairs that swivel around. I like a chair to stay put when I sit in it.” He gave Owen a jaundiced look. “Good enough?”
“Great. So I’m gonna put this recorder right here on the desk. You want to say something you don’t want recorded, just point and I’ll shut it off. Otherwise it’s on.” Gordon hit a button and leaned back in his chair, pulling out a notepad and pen. “Oh yeah, almost forgot.” He read Owen his rights and established their identities on the tape. “So what happened?”
“I got home—I live on the boat—and found Leon. He was dead. I called the police. I got guns pointed at me. Looked like they might be about to shoot the dog, too, if he got loose. There was a lot of yelling. I got put in cuffs. Been waiting in here ever since.” Owen thought for a second. “That’s it.” Assholes.
Gordon nodded, then leaned forward. “Mind if I smoke?” he asked.
“No, go ahead.” Worse things had happened today.
Gordon shook out a cigarette and lit it, smiling faintly. He met Owen’s eyes. “Okay. Here’s the deal. Whatever happened to your buddy Leon probably went down yesterday sometime.” He took a drag on the cigarette, tilted his head back, and blew smoke at the ceiling. His eyes returned to Owen’s. “You say you weren’t here until this afternoon. That’s fine, so you weren’t here. But you had to be someplace. If you’ll tell me where it was I can go check it out and write my report. Then I can start looking at other things, maybe figure out what happened. The way I understand it, this guy was your friend. And it happened in your house. Where you live. That’s gotta bother you some. So tell me where you were, what you were doing, who saw you. Okay? I’ll just sit here and save my questions till you’re done.”
Gordon balanced his cigarette on the corner of the desk. Ash fell to the cheap yellow carpet. He glanced at it and shrugged, seeming a little embarrassed. “Carpet’s ugly anyway.” He focused on Owen. “This would be a good time to start talking.”
Owen took a deep breath, held it for the ten seconds Shawna liked to count aloud for him when she was around, and let it out. Yeah. Gordon was right. If Owen could help, he needed to do it.
“Okay. I was out in my kayak the last two days. The first day I drifted around, not really fishing much, just trying to remember how to look at stuff around me instead of the inside of my own head. Between all the people, in those empty places, there’s a whole world out there, you know?” He shook himself. “But that’s not what you want to hear. I saw a few people, and watched some boats go by, but I didn’t talk to anybody. Or recognize anybody either.
“I stayed overnight on Mustang Island, in one of the inlets. Nobody was around. I guess I could take you and show you where it was.” Owen blinked. He had something better than that, didn’t he? “Or I could give you the GPS coordinates, because a friend gave me one and I was playing with it. Actually I have my whole route on the thing. Not a human witness, but it’s better than nothing.”
Gordon leaned forward as if he wanted to ask a question, but then settled back in his chair and waved for Owen to continue.
What had that been about? “Anyway,” Owen went on, “there wouldn’t be much to see out there, because I did my cooking on an alcohol stove and I pack out my trash on these trips. On the second day, this morning, maybe ten o’clock, I ran across a friend’s houseboat and stopped in to say hello. He fed me lunch and we got to fishing and talking. We had a few beers in there too. I started back around four o’clock so I’d have time to get here and clean up, because I had a date tonight. Did Shawna show up, by the way?”
Gordon shook his head. “Not yet. They’ll tell us when she does. Go on.”
“There isn’t much more. I got back here around six o’clock. When I went in to take a shower I saw . . .” he swallowed bile. Not again, not here, not now. “I saw Leon in the salon, with a spear going in his mouth and out the back of his head. There was blood everywhere.” He felt lightheaded. “I ran out and puked over the rail. Felt like I might pass out for a while there. Then I called you guys, and waited.”
Gordon nodded. “You didn’t call 911?”
“No. I remembered something about a city ordinance against frivolous calls. I wasn’t thinking too well, I guess. But I figured it wasn’t an emergency, because there was no way anybody could help Leon. Does it matter?”
“Nope. Only difference is the call didn’t get recorded. Sometimes people dial the regular line so we can’t prove they’re the ones who called. But it doesn’t apply here, I just wondered. So how do you know Leon?”
“We went to high school together.” It seemed to have been a lot more than ten years ago. And there wouldn’t be any more memories of him, would there? Never mind that for now; Gordon needed answers. “We weren’t all that close back then, and I hadn’t seen him for years, but there’s still a connection with people like that. I moved out to the new marina when they built it last year and decided to allow liveaboards again. Leon lived here too, so we’d get together sometimes for a beer. He taught me a lot about boats, and I’d hire him to work for me sometimes. Other people did too. I don’t know if he ever had a regular job, but he did okay.”
“What kind of work do you do?” Gordon asked.
“Private investigator.” Owen felt his face warming, and hoped Gordon wouldn’t notice. “I’ve done a lot of things, but I don’t want to do them anymore. I was an MP in the army so I could get the license without too much trouble. But I’m just starting, really.”
“PI, huh? What kind of clients you got?”
“Just a couple. A lady hired me to find her husband. It wasn’t hard. He’d run off to Dallas with another woman, I think the wife was the only one who didn’t know. And I’m waiting for a contract to show up in the mail. If it goes through I’ll be working for Wave & Surf, to figure out how they’re losing inventory. Stuff like that. Nothing exciting so far.” And within six months to a year, in spite of his savings, Owen would have to either find more clients or get what almost everybody he knew insisted on calling a real job. Unless he won the lottery. But Gordon didn’t need to hear about that.
Gordon was already unimpressed. “Anybody out there doesn’t like you? Or Leon?”
“Not that I know of. I mean, a few people probably wouldn’t mind if something happened to me, but no real enemies.” Owen hesitated, then shrugged. “I don’t think Leon made enough of an impression on anyone to have an enemy. No money, either, as far as I know.”
“Okay,” Gordon said. “Now I’ll tell you what this looks like. You say you weren’t here, but you got no alibi. That GPS thing is cute, and I’ll look at it, but even if it checks out there’s no way to know for sure when you traveled that route, or if it was even you who did it, so it doesn’t do me much good. When did your friend give it to you?”
“Couple of months ago.”
“See? That’s no good. If it was a couple of days ago, and your friend swore the route wasn’t on the GPS when he gave it to you, it’d at least prove you went to some trouble. This way it means nothing. Hell, if we check into it and find something funky it might help convict you, but it won’t do much for you, because you could fake it too easy.”
Gordon paused, gave Owen a bland look. “Relax, Tremaine. I believe you. Maybe even because nobody would make up such a lame alibi. So let’s move on. You were with a friend earlier, but you haven’t given me his name. I’ll need that to check with him, but it won’t help you much either, because from the smell and the condition of the body Leon got himself killed yesterday at least. Maybe before. We’ll get that nailed down later.” He grimaced. “Personally I hafta say I wish you’d left the air conditioner on.” He eyed Owen for a moment.
Owen focused on breathing, doing his best not to react. If this didn’t end soon he might pass out after all.
“On the plus side,” Gordon went on, “you were seen paddling up to your boat and you definitely puked over the side. But you might have done that even if you knew what you were gonna find. And whoever killed Leon had to be pretty strong. That spear went right through him. You’re a big guy. Know anything about the spear?”
“It’s mine. It usually hangs on the wall.” Owen shrugged. “I like to go gigging in the Bay sometimes. You know, walk around with a flashlight after dark, looking for flounder?” It wasn’t all that different from this interview. The Bay sat quiet and still, just like this office. You never changed direction quickly when you were wading. There might be a stingray right behind your heels, hoping to eat whatever you stirred up. You didn’t want to step on it accidentally, because its stinger would go right through your foot. Or leg. You had to be sure to move in an arc, so the rays would quietly follow you around. There was no way to know when they’d punish a misstep. Gordon, with his alert eyes and conversational twists, was starting to remind Owen of the rays. He resolved to walk slowly and carefully.
“Yeah, I done that before,” Gordon said. “Not with that kind of spear, though. The one I used had little prongs on it, to hold the fish. How come yours doesn’t?”
Owen shrugged. His hands were sweating. He wiped them on his shorts. The shorts, stiff with saltwater and stinking of dead fish, felt like sandpaper. “It was at a garage sale and I liked it.”
“So anybody at all could have grabbed it off the wall?”
“Supposing they were in your houseboat, anyway.”
Owen looked at him. “Well, somebody was.”
“Sure. Who was your friend today, the one you were drinking with?”
“Um. It was just a couple of beers on a Sunday afternoon. And…I can’t tell you who it was.”
“How come?” Gordon asked. He looked disillusioned. Owen thought it was a pretty good act.
But he couldn’t bring the Hermit into this. Not without a better reason than Gordon’s curiosity. “Because he doesn’t like cops. Because I’ve known him since I was twelve years old, and if I send the police out to find him he might hold it against me. And also because—as you pointed out—I went there today. Nothing happened to Leon today. So if I get charged with a crime I’ll talk to my lawyer, and maybe I’ll tell you who it was and maybe I won’t. But right now you don’t need to know.”
Even with Gordon glaring at him, Owen couldn’t think of the Hermit and his posturing without smiling a little. He suspected the local fishermen thought finding the old man in the Nameless, his ancient and cluttered houseboat, to be an omen of good luck to come. And the gifts they left—usually a few beers or some of their catch—had always struck him as being less than charitable, an oddly fearful sort of propitiation.
But Owen figured he, at least, was all grown up now and knew better than to believe any fairy tales casting the Hermit as a peculiar spirit of the Laguna Madre. Still—the Hermit was family, in a way, even if he had sent Owen off in a storm of insults a few hours ago.
Gordon pointed at the recorder. “Anything else you want to tell me?”
“How about the dog? You take him with you on the kayak? Or was he with your friend Leon? Think he’d make a good witness?”
Damnit. “I guess you know I got him off Leon’s boat. But what was I supposed to do? I knocked on Leon’s hull to see if anybody was around—maybe I thought somebody might be there looking for him, I don’t know, I was pretty messed up—and Shadow went nuts. So I got him out. Then I called you guys.”
Gordon nodded. “Yeah, somebody saw you. I’d have to ask a lawyer to find out if what you did was legal. My guess is it wasn’t. And it sure doesn’t help me do my job when people mess with a crime scene.” He shrugged. “But if it was my buddy’s dog I’d probably get him out too. I just wondered if you’d lie about it. Did you touch anything in either boat?”
“Just the outside of the hatch on Leon’s. I would have gone in to get Shadow’s leash, but it was already clipped to his collar.”
Gordon looked interested. “Yeah? Would Leon have been likely to leave him that way?”
“I doubt it. Maybe for a few minutes. It would depend on what he was doing.”
Gordon made a note. “Okay, so we’ll check that. Maybe somebody else was seen with the dog. Maybe Leon didn’t put him in there. How about your boat? Touch anything?”
“Uh…you know about the kayak and camping stuff, I guess. I don’t really know what I touched when I was on deck. After that—well, I usually grab a rail when I climb inside. I might have touched the wall or a counter as I left. I wasn’t thinking very clearly just then.”
Gordon turned off the recorder. “Okay. I think we’re done here.”
Owen blinked at him. The rhythm of the questioning had nearly hypnotized him, and this sudden awakening was almost unwelcome. “So I can go?”
“Sure, you can go. Let me know where you’re staying and how to reach you, though. I might have more questions.”
“All right.” It sounded reasonable. Probably. Owen was still reeling. “I can do that. After I figure it out for myself.”
“I’ll get some clothes off your boat for you. It’s gonna be locked up tight for a while.” He handed Owen a card. “You can reach me any time on the cell.”
Gordon stood up, still watching Owen. Owen shrugged and walked around the desk. Gordon’s finger jabbed the recorder just as Owen reached for the door. “One more thing. What’s your connection to Viktor Bentley?”
“Viktor Bentley? I don’t…oh, Junior Bentley? Or his father, I guess. I never think of him as Viktor, but I guess I remember it now.” Owen walked back behind the desk and sat down. Here it came. The stinger.
Gordon checked his notebook. “Junior.” He sat back down too, planting himself as if he wasn’t planning to get up any time soon.
Too much history there. Gordon didn’t need all of it, especially if he was going to play games. “I used to work for him, at CyberLook. It’s a software company. But I quit a year ago.”
“Um, a personality conflict, maybe. Why? How’d you know there was a connection?”
“Did you talk to this Junior Bentley recently?”
“Yeah. He wanted to hire me a month ago. Not back to my old job, exactly. He just wanted me to poke around.”
“Poke around what?”
“I don’t know. Something funny going on, he said. I told him I was busy. Right after I quit, my girlfriend left me for Junior. I used to like him okay, but I didn’t want to work for him again.” Jesus, where was this going?
Gordon tapped his notebook. “Junior Bentley disappeared last night. A neighbor checked on things when she saw the front door standing open. From the blood on the floor, we figure he’s probably dead. And your girlfriend, the one you’re waiting for, that’s this same Shawna McPhee who used to date him, right?”
Owen nodded, unable to speak.
“Yeah, that’s her. We think maybe she did it. But I dunno how she could have done this thing to your buddy Leon, that took real strength, so maybe it’s not connected. Or maybe she’s got somebody working with her. Or she got dragged off by whoever got Bentley. Anyway, she’s gone too. So if you see her, you call me. Okay?”
Owen swallowed. “Shawna’s…missing?”
“Yeah.” Gordon leaned closer. “Pay attention, Tremaine, stay with me here. Right now this doesn’t look so good. There’s something between you and this McPhee woman and this guy Junior Bentley. Maybe some jealousy there, I don’t know. And Leon Purvis gets it in the face with a spear, on your boat, probably the same night somebody left blood all over Bentley’s place. His blood type, not your girlfriend’s, by the way. And you know what tops it all off?”
Owen didn’t really want to know. “What?”
“Your damned résumé. The file was open on Bentley’s computer. Right there, front and center.” Gordon slowly stubbed out his cigarette on the side of the desk. He never looked away from Owen’s face. “We looked for you late last night and again this morning, but we didn’t have a warrant to get into your boat. You say you have no idea what Bentley wanted to hire you for, a month ago.”
“Just something at CyberLook, that’s all I know. He figured we could make it look to everybody there like I was coming back to my old job, or maybe consulting. Said there was some funny stuff going on. But I turned him down before we got into the details.” Owen stopped himself. Was he babbling?
Gordon nodded. “There were files on his computer we couldn’t read. Encrypted, they tell me. You know anything about that? Or where he might keep a password?”
“Sorry, but we weren’t exactly close.”
Gordon leaned back in his chair. He gave Owen a speculative look. “You really go out fishing from that kayak? I mean, as a regular thing?”
“Yeah. It gets me away from people.” Just not far enough, sometimes. Where the hell was Shawna?
Gordon snorted. “Could do that in the big boat too. And you wouldn’t have to paddle.”
“Sure. There’s just something about moving under my own power, and camping on the beach. Sometimes you see the damnedest things out there too.”
“Yeah? Like what?”
So Gordon wanted a story now. “You know how if you catch a fish, and slap it on the water, the porpoises will come sometimes and eat it?”
“No.” Gordon looked skeptical. “I can’t say I’ve ever seen that.”
“Well, in a kayak you’re close to the water, so it’s easy. I guess it’d be a pain from a bigger boat. Anyway, this happened early on Saturday afternoon. I’d seen a porpoise jumping within the last few minutes or so, and I’d just caught a redfish too small to keep. It was pretty torn up by the time I got the hooks out, so I figured I’d give it away if I could. So there I was, slapping the fish on the water, not really expecting anything because usually nothing happens, and this big damn hammerhead shark came up from underneath the kayak and grabbed the fish.”
Owen shivered, suddenly feeling cold. His father had told him that happened when somebody stepped on your grave. He guessed he was still a little spooked. “I thought it would get my hand. I dropped the fish and jerked back, and the hammerhead took it, and I just sat there for fifteen minutes, too scared to move. The thing must have been about eight feet long, and I’d had no idea it was anywhere near me. I guess they’re always around, but you don’t think about ‘em much, and it shook me. Anyway, I’m not saying I want to repeat that particular experience, but things happen out there. I want to see them.”
“Huh.” Gordon turned the recorder off again. “Hell of a story.” He regarded Owen for a moment.
Owen looked back at him. There had been something unnatural about that shark’s grab for his hand. He’d had a sense of…malevolence. He was certain it had only taken the fish because he’d moved his hand in time. And he’d never heard of a hammerhead doing that before. Could a shark be rabid, or did they get some similar disease? He didn’t understand what had happened—but he also didn’t care whether Gordon believed him. Gordon had asked; Owen had answered.
“I’m going to let you go,” Gordon said finally. He took in Owen’s appearance and almost smiled. “Your boat’s a crime scene, so I hafta ask you not to go back to it without checking with me first. Same for Leon’s. I’ll bring those clothes to you here.” He drummed his fingers on the desk. “We probably have enough to hold you on. But the thing is, personally I believe you. And I don’t think holding innocent people is a good policy. Still. You’re mixed up in something pretty nasty, even if you don’t know what it is. So don’t forget—stay in touch, I might need to talk to you. And be careful. Very careful. Okay?”
“Sure.” Owen was startled by the sudden reprieve. He’d been half-expecting Gordon to arrest him. “Uh…the dog?”
“You want him? I figure you went to some trouble for him already. So I can’t tell you it’s okay to take him with you, but I ain’t watching that closely either. Your buddy’s parents will probably show up eventually. Work it out with them.”
Owen followed him outside, hoping nobody would notice his wobbly knees. In spite of everything that had happened, the night air seemed sweeter than usual, more potent somehow.
He walked Shadow for over an hour, hoping they’d both be able to sleep if they could manage total exhaustion. It wasn’t until he picked up his bundle of clothes to get into a cab that he remembered he hadn’t told Gordon about the missing Jeep.
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Have a good day out there.